Archive for January, 2007

An Argument for the Contingency of the Universe

January 25, 2007

My roommate is not a philosophy major, but is interested in philosophical issues. He proposed an a posteriori argument to me for the contingency of the universe that was inteteresting:

1. Necessary beings cannot fail to exist; contingent beings can fail to exist. (definition)
2. The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the amount of available energy in closed systems decreases. (from empirical considerations)
3. This implies that the universe as a whole (a closed system) will one day cease to exist.
4. Therefore the universe is a contingent being. (from 1 and 3)

If this argument were valid it would hook in rather nicely with the “vertical” cosmological arguments for God’s existence given by Aquinas and Leibniz. A revized version of the Leibnizian argumetn goes like this:

1. Everything has some reason for its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in the nature of another. (Assumption, called the principle of some reason; notice it is not the principle of SUFFICIENT reason, which states that everything has a sufficient reason for its existence)
2. If the universe has a reason for its existence in another nature, that nature is God. (Assumption. Actually, it might just be a label. That is to say, we could label whatever is “the reason for the universe’s existence” as “God”)
3. The universe is a thing that does not have a reason for its existence in the necessity of its own nature. (Assumption)
4. Therefore the reason for its existence in the nature of another. (from 1 and 3 by negation of the 1st side of the disjunct in premise 1)
5. Therefore the universe’s explanation is God. (from 4 and 2 by affirming the antecedent of 2)

The most controversial premises seem to be 2 and 3. 2 is actually something most atheists would probably admit. But premise 3 is where the buck stops with atheists. Usually they will say that the universe had to exist. But if my roommate’s argument is right, this premise is true. If the universe could have failed to exist, then it is not a necessary being, and so it does need an explanation.

Well, does the argument my roomate gave succeed? Sadly, the findings of physical cosmology imply that (3) is not a valid inference from (2). According to most, the universe will be expanding forever, not collapsing back in on itself. The particles of matter will not become so drawn to each other that the universe will implode. And thus, there isn’t proof here for the contingency of the universe.

But careful consideration leads me to suspect there is another possible way to argue for the contingency of the world. Quantum mechanics is, of course, a much-debated subject. There are various interpretations of it, and so those who disagree with a certain way of looking at it will not agree with the conclusions that are arrived at.

Let us assume that quantum indeterminacy is ontic. By this I mean that the unpredictable and erratic movements of the particles that make up protons, neutrons, and electrons are in fact indeterministic in their movement and operations. Some people just think that quantum indeterminacy appears true; that there is a gap of some sort in our knowledge of the forces that influence the particles, and that if we knew all the forces that influence the particles, we would realize that the operations of these particles is indeed deterministic.

Now what follows if we assume ontic indeterminacy? It seems that the contingency of the universe is an implication:

1. Quantum indeterminacy is ontic (assumption–a common one at that)
2. At the first few fractions of a second after the big bang, the movement of the initial particles that made up the universe could have been such that the universe collapsed in on itself.
3. Therefore the universe is contingent.

This seems like a good argument. I’m not 100% sure it works because you can always challenge premise 1; but for those scientists who believe in premise 1, it seems that premise 3 follows. Thus it supports the contingency of the world (and by implication the existence of God).

Does Hebrews 10:14 Support Eternal Security?

January 23, 2007

The 14th verse of Hebrews 10 states regarding Christ’s action directed toward believers “For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated”. But considering that these people are Christians, this seems to imply Christians are sanctified unendingly. If this is true, does Hebrews 10:14 give evidence for the idea that a true Christian cannot reject salvation once they become a Christian?

Hebrews Chapter 10 reads as follows:

1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year.
2 Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins?
3 But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins,
4 for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins.
5 For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;
6 holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in.
7 Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'”
8 First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law.
9 Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second.
10 By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
13 now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.
14 For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.

This is probably one of the strongest verses in support of eternal security in the whole Bible. At face value it seems like it can only be interpreted to mean that salvation is permanent and beyond the possibility of rejection.

But what does it really mean? David deSilva, one of the brightest Evangelical scholars, argues in his commentary entitled “Perseverance in Gratitude” for a very cogent interpretation that doesn’t necessitate eternal security. The surrounding context indicates that the discussion here has the underlying concept of ritual purity. Da Silva’s book “Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture” first introduced me to a definition of this idea. Ritual purity has to do with being morally and ontologically in the correct position. Terms associated with this include common and holy, clean and unclean. Being “holy” though difficult to define exactly, roughly means existing in a way that is removed from the ordinary, involves completion or perfection, and has immense power for either danger or creativity. “Common” is the absence of these qualities. “Clean/pure” means properly related to other things of a specific place and/or time. “Unclean/polluted” means improperly related to other things of a specific place and/or time.

When Hebrews 10:14 says that those who are being made holy are perfect forever, this has 2 meanings which are compatible with each other.

1. Being made perfect forever involves being permanently morally perfected (“sanctified” to use common theological terminology) and unable to fail to be morally perfected.

2. Being made perfect forever involves permanent ritual purity (clealiness) and divine-human openness; in other words, as a result of Christ’s high-priestly sacrifice the believer’s state has been ritually perfected, making God permanently accessible and requiring no more sacrifices.

The preceding verses strongly suggest that the second meaning is primary. The contrast is as follows:

1. Levitical high priests / continual sacrifices / ineffective to expiate sins

2. Christ’s high priesthood / single permanent sacrifice / effective to expiate sins

Thus, it seems prima facie likely that Hebrews 10:14 only explicitly endorses the second interpretation. Now, because there is a distinction between having access and taking advantage of that access, this view does not entail eternal security. Even though we have been perfected in the sense of given permanent access, we are capable of refusing to take advantage of that access. And if we do refuse, it seems at least possible that this could include falling away, or losing salvation.